We’ve all been heartbroken at some point or another, which means we’ve all heard of (or lost our voice from screaming to) the two hits that brought Dean Lewis the spotlight in America, “Waves” and “Be Alright.” These two songs from his album, A Place We Know, saw national success and put Lewis’ name in the same realm as Lewis Capaldi and Shawn Mendes, other singer/songwriters that are guaranteed to further break the hearts of the heartbroken.
With the release of his new album, The Hardest Love, Lewis hasn’t been shy to admit his struggle with reclaiming his fame in the aftermath of a 360 that the music industry has done as it develops into a world run by TikTok. As users of TikTok, the way we consume trends seems so normalized to us, making us guilty of turning a blind eye to how we’re transforming the music industry into something we’ve never seen before.
When I sat down with Universal Music Group’s 1824 and Dean Lewis, he opened my eyes to what’s going on right in front of our faces.
We know what TikTok has done to micro-trending in the fashion industry, but what about practicing sustainability when it comes to music?
“You’ve got your hot one minute, and then you’re not hot,” Dean explained to us in relation to trying to make it as an artist. I’ll even admit it; I’m part of the problem. If you dare to pull up my “current listens” playlist, you’ll be doomed to a collection of songs that have burned holes in your ears as TikTok’s FYP beats them into your head.
It’s not my fault, though, I swear. I mean, when every other video I watch is the same 15 seconds of the same song over and over again, I’m bound to get it stuck in my head until I basically have no choice but to stream it. Well, until I find a new song to fixate on.
And because of people like me (and you, yes, you too), the importance of replay value has vanished.
“You see a lot of artists chasing trends,” Lewis pointed out to us. We are slowly transforming into a society that would rather consume catchy songs instead of good music, the kind with lyrics that punch you in the stomach and beats that make you feel like you’re transcending. He went on to highlight how valuable staying true to himself as an artist is. “I’m still writing the songs that I care about, and I love, and then I try to find one of those, and then that’ll be the TikTok one I use. But it’s always gonna be the best song that I have; I’m never going to craft it for it like a lot of artists are doing.”
Tea, but Lewis spoke nothing but facts. If you scroll through songs trending on TikTok right now, I bet you good money that you could identify at least one song that was crafted with TikTok virality being the main goal.
TikTok is the reality of the future. It is here and there are rules as an artist that you work with it, and you can choose to not play in that game and you just will not have the success. It is the reality of what it is.”Dean Lewis
Now, TikTok has its pros too, and it’s definitely played a part in Lewis’ level of success. Ole Obermann, the Global Head of Music TikTok, once said that “TikTok has become an integral part of music discovery, connecting artists to their fans and introducing brands to every corner of the community,”
“But I think it’s really cool that it exists ’cause for the first time you can have exponential growth,” Lewis turned around and said. He explained how his single, “How Do I Say Goodbye” went from 500,000 streams a day to a million streams after the day he posted a TikTok about the song, bringing it to the Global Pop 100.
“How cool is that, that you can do that as an artist?” Dean gushed. He reminds us that the emergence of TikTok also meant the emergence of a space where anyone can break through, even with little to no help. As Dean Lewis likes to say, “Great art will always find a way.”
Lewis posed a question that made me stop and think: how do we measure success in this space?
“It’s so scary for everyone because you could have a song that you think is your best song, and it doesn’t catch a moment. Does that mean it’s not (because there’s no trend)? Does it mean it’s not great?” He went on to express the idea that if even the best song doesn’t reach TikTok, it’ll be left in the dust at some point for a song that is trend-worthy.
“A lot of people are very burnt out by this,” Dean admits when reflecting on his conversations with other artists about the new steps they feel like they have to take in order to find success. “It’s not really sustainable for a lot of people, you’re chasing something that’s sort of so elusive, and you’re not really focusing on what we’re supposed to be doing, which is creating songs and touring and stuff like that,” he continued.
TikTok has its good effects and its bad effects, but the point is it’s having a momentous effect that will leave the music industry changed forever. Foreseeing the music world’s future post-TikTok is difficult, and we don’t know where this will end. But, one thing I can confirm is that it is true: great art will always find a way.